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Early start of FTA negotiations eludes Japan, Thailand.

BANGKOK, May 21 Kyodo

Japan and Thailand appear unlikely to agree on an early start of formal negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) in June when Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Thaksin Shinawatra (täk`sĭn shĭ`näwät), 1949–, Thai business executive and political leader, b. Chiang Mai. Born into a wealth merchant family, he went into the Thai police service in 1973 and continued his  visits Japan, Japanese officials said Tuesday.

The outlook emerged during the fifth and last working group meeting between the two nations held in Bangkok on Monday and Tuesday, primarily on Japan's concern a bilateral FTA would deal a severe blow to its tightly protected farm sector, the officials said.

Thailand, a major farm producer, wants to export more agricultural products to Japan such as chicken, tapioca and sugar, while shelving the issue of opening up Japan's rice market given the political sensitivity involved on the part of Japan.

''We still hope we can start negotiation in June and conclude it by the end of the year,'' said Pisan Manawapat, director general of the Thai Foreign Ministry's International Economic Affairs Department.

Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Japan)
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Cambodia)
 is worried FTA talks with Thailand would have unfavorable effects on Tokyo's ongoing FTA talks with Mexico, expected to be concluded in October, a ministry official said.

The ministry insists both countries set up a panel of experts from industry, government and academia to explore merits and demerits of signing a bilateral FTA. Japan held such study panel talks with Singapore and Mexico before starting formal FTA negotiations.

Thailand has also expressed strong interest in enhancing the mobility of businesspeople, especially enabling Thai masseurs to work in Japan. But the country is reluctant to liberalize lib·er·al·ize  
v. lib·er·al·ized, lib·er·al·iz·ing, lib·er·al·iz·es
To make liberal or more liberal: "Our standards of private conduct have been greatly liberalized . . .
 its own services and investment sectors.

Tokyo's requests associated with these sectors include the freeing up of the Thai telecom industry to enable Japanese companies to bid on government procurement Government procurement, also called public tendering, is the procurement of goods and services on behalf of a public authority, such as a government agency. With 10 to 15% of GDP in developed countries, and up to 20% in developing countries, government procurement accounts  contracts and Thailand's dropping of technology transfers as a requirement for investment privileges.

Meanwhile, three main Japanese business lobbies jointly issued a statement Tuesday urging Tokyo to enter negotiations with Thailand for concluding an FTA in June when Thaksin meets Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Tokyo.

Japan has an FTA with Singapore and is now in negotiations with Mexico for a similar arrangement. It is also mulling signing one with South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), organization established by the Bangkok Declaration (1967), linking the nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. .

Thailand has an FTA with Bahrain and intends to conclude FTAs with such countries as China and India.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:May 27, 2003
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